Coming soon, perhaps, to a legislature near you - sentencing reform, and the end of automatic term reduction through good time. "We expect to see a viable piece of legislation drafted around the first week of the 2007 session" in Olympia, says Erich R. Ebel, spokesperson for the Washington State Senate Republican Caucus. Responding to this week's SW story about 26-time felon and cop-shooter Wilford Armstead, Ebel says the legal reforms have a "good chance of putting an end to the `revolving door' in Washington's prison system."
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, and Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, co-chairs of the Joint Task Force on Offender Programs, Sentencing and Supervision, are guiding the new legislation and last month made their final recommendations to the Senate Human Services and Corrections committee. They outlined their proposals in a recent op-ed in The Olympian, pointing out the "need to reduce the number of people returning to prison due to new convictions or release violations." Recidivism increases incarceration costs and reduces public safety, usually creating more victims, they observe, adding:
One of the most dramatic proposals being discussed is getting rid of `good-time' for early release, where a prisoner can get from 33 to 50 percent of their time reduced simply by not doing anything wrong. We expect prisoners to earn early release, and make dramatic changes in their lives to fix the issues that put them in prison in the first place. Our responsibility in the process would be to help offenders overcome hurdles both inside the prison and once they're released, including mental health issues, substance abuse, illiteracy, and a lack of job skills, which often result in offender homelessness and recidivism.
Hear, hear. As the recent series of Seattle-area cop killings (by ex-cons) suggests, reform is critical. Don't lose sight of fairness in sentencing, but as former Walla Walla warden Bobby Rhay liked to qaintly say, "These guys aren't in here for pushing ducks into water."